Wednesday, March 31, 2010

5 Elements of Great Website Design

Interestingly enough – coming from a graphic design firm – we often tell clients that when it comes to website design, the "design" part may be secondary, if not tertiary, to the overall effectiveness of the website.

I mean, sure, if the homepage is crammed with text, and not much else, the visitor probably can't hit the back button quick enough. But, when it comes right down to it, how important is the design?

One sentiment I've often repeated when discussing the subject is, "a great website design is only great if people are seeing it". To spell it out; if no one visits your website it's virtually a waste of internet space, no matter how great the design.

So, whats in a website design? Below are 5 important things to know when building a website.

1. Content is King
Content, plain and simple, is king. Owners - take note here, because this means you'll probably have to contribute at least some content; no-one knows your business better than you (least of all lowly graphic designers). When writing homepage content, focus less on what your selling and more on who your selling to. Self-indulging, static content may quickly draw a visitor away. Instead, offer informative articles, facts, and tips within your industry; it will keep visitors on your site longer, and ultimately provide more incentive to do business with you. If you're an electrician, for instance, write an article about how to change a light switch to a dimmer switch, and change those articles frequently.

2. Meta Content is the "Hidden" King
Yep, like the one tucked under your leg in a poker game, meta and source code content isn't visible to your visitors, but it is to search engines, and search engines drive traffic. Designers take note here - it is a basic, yet invaluable piece of the website pie; yet many aren't aware of the importance. Be sure your web site contains properly written meta content and html tags. Take the "alt" tag, for example. Originally intended to provide a one or two word "alternate" description for an image or graphic (mainly for visitors who could not view the image), it was often left blank by designers who felt it unnecessary to the site design (and outwardly, they were right). Now, the "alt" tag plays a vital role in defining and indexing a page by search engines. The same is true of nearly every tag in your source code, each plays a role in SEO and it is important to understand that role.

3. Use images, video and animation wisely
Internet speeds have come a long way in the last two decades; even in the last 5 years. With faster load times, many developers and designers have taken to creating lavish site designs with complex navigation buttons, flash animations, backgrounds and images. But the reality is, most of this does nothing to improving your sites visibility, usability or even its attractiveness. Certainly a website must be compelling for its' target audience, but this does not have to mean complex graphics and animations. For example, how many times have you hit the "skip intro" button on a websites opening video? And do other Flash buttons and effects really enhance the users experience? Most often not. A website should, at the forefront, load quickly and look great at the same time.

4. Create a Great Design

Now that the hard part is complete - writing useful content and determining the right graphics - its time to show it off in a great way - that is, create a great site design and architecture. The growing trend here is to offer visitors a variety of options at a single glance, in an interesting and dynamic way. Websites of yester-year would have a series of navigation buttons, some intro text and maybe a picture or two. Todays' websites offer a whole lot more - tips, faqs, whitepaper, current news, blog, quick contact, networking, resources and more all at your fingertips. The trick for the designer is making all that information look great and stay organized.

5. Share your Content

Bringing the conversation full circle, your new, great website is only as great as the people seeing it. Once again, if you're the website owner, you may have to do a little upkeep work here. Website design is no longer a one-way street, where a designer or developer creates the entire design, posts it and all is done. As described earlier, content must be constantly updated to keep visitors returning. And then, it must be shared. If no one knows your sites' content has been updated, they'll never see it. That's where social networking sites have become key resources for spreading the word. Set up accounts on popular social networking sites and blogs - and share information with others. Ask clients to review your product or service through popular websites and search engines.

In the end, design is only a small factor in the overall effectiveness of website design. Be sure to research your site carefully and choose your designer or developer even more carefully.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

5 Questions To Ask When Buying a Logo Design

Many businesses are lured by advertisements for cheap logos; $299, $149 and even $99. Now, as much as I loathe beginning my first blog with a clichè; you get what you pay for. The unfortunate thing about clichès is, they are almost always true.

So, think you're getting a great deal on a logo? Promises of multiple designers and guarantees of satisfaction? Well, even the cheapest price is too much if all you're left with are lousy designs that you can't use. Take for example the following logo, purchased from a popular, mass-producing logo company (the name of the business has been changed to protect the client's privacy):



Setting aside the fact that the logo emplores the most generic design element known to man (the ridiculously over-used "Saturn Ring"), which offers almost no originality or any identity to the business itself, it is also a near carbon copy of a logo created over a decade ago:

Kobrick Logo design

This is one of the clear dangers of using mass-producing "Logo-Lofty" companies; they do virtually zero market or copyright research. The client must now pay for another logo, with no hope of recovering even a nickel from "LogoMustGo.com".

Month after month we field calls from desperate business owners holding lousy logo designs, out hundreds of dollars, with no recourse. The only satisfaction guarantee from "Logo-NoGo" was they satisfied THEIR requirement of providing 5 designs.

To that end, we try to educate clients about the truth behind "LogoTrickery.com" companies. Here are 5 questions you should ask before laying out your hard-earned cash:

1. Will market and copyright research be conducted?

This is one of the most important questions, as demonstrated above. You should never pay in advance, in full, for designs that you might not be able to use. Part of the benefit of using a qualified graphic design firm, besides the superior design service, is they are trained in the application and development of logo design. This means not only do you get a logo designed only for you, but you can feel safe in knowing the design is original and unique to your business.


2. Are the designs produced exclusively for my company?

This ties in to the first question. And, of course, we know the "Logo-NoGo" companies are not doing the research, so what is to say the designs are even unique to your company. The answer is, they are not. The trick for the mass-producing logo companies is, the designs are created well before they ever heard of your company. Lots of clones are in a room creating stock graphics to be later applied to a unique business name (yours!).


3. Will the logo work in black and white and reproduce well at small sizes?

"Ummmm.... Hello? Cat got your tongue?" Many firms cannot, or simply will not answer this question. Watch out here for vague, distracting answers. Why?

  • Because they have never considered it; they do not realize the importance
  • Because they rely on trendy computer effects; drop shadows, blends and color to "wow" you - all of which will not reproduce in a black and white ad, flyer, or fax.

In short, many designers today simply do not know the key to creating a successful logo, so they dazzle you with trendy effects that will soon be outdated. Put your logo to the test - Will it work across multiple platforms? Does it reproduce well in Black and white? Will it reproduce well at small and large sizes?

Consider some of the most recognizable logos: Coca Cola®, BMW®, Nike®, Microsoft®, GE®, CBS®, Time/Warner®, Apple®, McDonalds® and Ford® , just to name a few. All are as relevant today as the day they were created, which was well before the advent of computers! If you're logo does not work first in black and white, and at both very large and very small sizes, it most certainly will not be good for very long.


4. Do you have relevant examples?

When looking for a specific style or treatment for your logo be sure the design firm you are interviewing can provide samples of the look or style you are trying to achieve. If the design firm doesn't have an extensive portfolio (15 or more designs), they may be an inexperienced company that can not provide you with a wide array of options. A quick review of our portfolio will reveal an extensive range of styles and techniques, for instance.

5. Will you work until I am 100% satisfied, creating new designs when necessary?

This is difficult question for most design firms. Should a design firm be expected to create endless new designs at a fixed fee? In most cases the answer is no, unless that fixed fee is pretty substantial. But we do believe a design should never be "forced" upon a client. Which is why our policy is to collect only a 50% retainer to create logo designs and we do not charge another penny until the project is completed to our CLIENTS' satisfaction. Now, all businesses have different budgets, so how much INITIAL design and research work is done will vary, but will not vary is our clients' complete satisfaction. After initial designs are presented, the client chooses to either move forward or move on.

For more on logo design, here is an excellent article on design and branding